Swift Nestbox Project at UCC

29 Apr 2014

This is the time of year when birds occupy much of our time on this programme. We have boxes strategically placed in locations throughout the country – and we’re watching closely as birds begin to nest and hopefully start laying their eggs.

Any day now we can expect to see Swifts beginning to arrive from Africa, and in UCC they’re running a project to attract these birds to nest in boxes they have attached to university buildings.

Research has shown that a critical factor in getting Swifts to nest is the use of recorded birdsong. This mimics colonies of nesting birds which captures their interest and attracts them down to have a look and then – with a bit of luck – to nest.

Swift Nest Boxes

Jim Wilson went out to find out more from Professor John O'Halloran who is Head of Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork...

Professor John O'Halloran

John O'Halloran's Swift Blog

Inspired by some photos taken by Derek Mooney in Azerbaijan of Swift nest boxes and the conservation status of this poorly known bird, we decided to erect nest boxes with webcams at The School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork (

Swift Building in Baku, Azerbaijan

The Common Swift Apus apus (or Swift) is a medium sized bird somewhat similar to the Swallow, but much larger, a faster flier and noisier! Soon they will arrive in Ireland and spend about three months in our cities and towns, screaming across the sky. It is one of my strongest childhood memories of spring, when swifts used to arrive in our primary school yard and nested under the eaves of my old primary school. I remember, as a young child, watching and listening to them as they screamed and flew into the school yard, having travelled thousands of miles from Africa, oblivious to the cacophony of children screaming in the yard. This experience in part inspired me in my career in ornithology and zoology; the fact that these birds spend their entire lives in the air, only dropping from the sky to nest in buildings in our cities and towns since ancient Roman times. Amazing!

These amazing birds will arrive in early May, some weeks after our Swallows and Martins and will depart early too in August, choosing to spend their short summer in Northern Europe. Their scientific Apus apus name comes from an ancient Greek word 'without feet'. These birds have legs so short they are almost invisible and never choosing to land except briefly to cling to buildings to build their nests. In fact, if they do land on the ground they are helpless and vulnerable to predation. Back in my primary school days, I recall finding a young Swift apparently having fallen from its nest (most likely premature fledging) being helpless and picking it up and making it airborne by casting it gently to the wind. Today many modern school yards are silent to the sound of the Swift as refurbished buildings have excluded them from nesting. Nest boxes can replace these lost nesting habitats.

At University College Cork, in collaboration with RTÉ’s Derek Mooney and Mooney Goes Wild, we have set up six swift nest boxes with web cams deployed ( We hope to attract these iconic birds to nest in these boxes in the coming days. To help attract them to the boxes we have been playing a recording of Swift calls for 24 hours, seven days a week for the last ten days. We hope that these recordings will attract the birds to nest in the boxes and by observing them using the nest cameras we will gain a deeper understanding of their biology and gain a glimpse of secret lives of these amazing birds.

We wait in hope!

John O'Halloran, Professor of Zoology, University College Cork

April 23rd 2014

Buildings and Estates Office

Foirgnimh agus Eastáit

Western Road, Cork